The recent hunger strike by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) prompted many different groups and individuals to become active in the anti-nuclear movement.
The Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan decided to lay siege to the legislative chamber, while members of the Nuke 4 Referendum Initiative Association resolved to proceed in silence from the Gikong Presbyterian Church, where Lin had held his hunger strike, to the legislature.
The media, either in their wisdom or simply because of laziness, lumped all the groups that initiated these movements into one, simplified category, labelling them all “anti-nuclear groups.”
As a result, the public was unaware of the diversity of these civic movements. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this, all movements initiated by this or that group need to take responsibility for themselves and to be accountable for how they go down in history. In this, we are no exception.
On the evening of April 28, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) backed down, agreeing to temporarily halt the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City. Originally, the National Nuclear Abolition Action Platform (NNAAP) was going to withdraw at 9pm that evening, but in the end we ran out of patience waiting for the government to make an official announcement. To consolidate our incremental gains, we decided to continue the occupation.
We were aware that the police might try to oust the protesters in the small hours. To ensure people’s personal safety as far as possible, the NNAAP organizers and picket volunteers confirmed there would be no violent resistance and that the policy was to employ delaying tactics instead. We also informed the public of this. Sure enough, at about 3am, the police moved in.
At first, they began physically removing people and their belongings and carting them off in police vehicles.
However, pretty soon, out came the riot shields and truncheons and more water cannons than we had seen on the streets before.
Before long, they sent in the SWAT units, taking away the loudspeakers people were using to maintain order, before going in with their truncheons, hitting and arresting people and attacking the media.
The police’s strong-arm tactics only served to increase the public’s resolve to protest. Some people even started to criticize the protest organizers, asking them why they decided to withdraw, wanting them to actually respond in kind.
Fortunately, as things were heating up, the young organizers and picketers stood on the front line, acting as a physical buffer between the riot shields and truncheons of the police on the one side, and incensed members of the public on the other, continuously calling for both sides to exercise restraint.
They maintained this until the sun came up the next day. Even now, I keep thinking about these young people, the organizers and the volunteers being pushed and shoved, squashed in the confusion and the chaos, gesturing for people to move back, their voices hoarse from shouting.
Frankly, those of us orchestrating events from the sidelines have no idea what it must have been like for those on the front line, or how stressful it must have been for them.
Despite the high degree of self-restraint demonstrated by the organizers and the public on the scene, the Ministry of Health and Welfare says 54 people were injured during the operation.
The NNAAP also received reports from 74 individuals that they had been involved in violent confrontations. Of these, 23 said that they had been attacked by police, with at least five women telling us that they had been either verbally or physically attacked or assaulted by male police officers.
This makes me wonder what Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was thinking, given the high level of self-restraint shown in this movement, when he gave the order that the police were to brandish truncheons and use violence against the protesters at the site.
When all the channels for seeking social justice within the system have been closed off, when the KMT just does as it pleases, when the system of representative politics in this country has all but collapsed, what other recourse do we have?
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) directed the National Police Agency (NPA) to bring its powers to bear on what he has called this “new form” of mass movement, the NPA announced its intention to employ “preventive detention” against protesters and Hau likened those who have taken to the streets to “hijackers.”
Their actions, far from dissipating public ire, are actually more likely to add fuel to the fire; they will only strengthen the protesters’ resolve and pave the way for further unrest.
Things will not get better until the authorities reflect upon their behavior, engage civil society in dialogue and enact political reforms to further democracy in this country and return power into the hands of the public.
Otherwise, in future social conflicts, there will be no young people separating the police from the public, ensuring that the levees do not burst.
Lee Ken-cheng is executive director of Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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